Tuesday, June 14, 2016

So you slept through science class -- Catch Shares!

Earlier this year, I introduced "The Tragedy of the Commons" which explains some of the management problems associated with public goods.  One of those public goods is fisheries.  How do we effectively manage our fish resources?

The first question is, why should we care about fisheries?  Aren't there plenty of fish to go around?  According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, about 1/4 of all fish stocks are being exploited at a level that is not sustainable, while over 1/2 of all fish stocks are at the absolute highest sustainable level of harvest.  We have depleted many fisheries and are now moving on to others.  Here's an example -- the tilapia that you often see on restaurant menus wasn't always a popular fish; it only became more popular as other fish stocks became depleted.  Since roughly 1 billion people get their daily protein from fish, this is a big issue.

So yes, we should care about fisheries!  An easy was for the individual consumer to track his or her impact is by using the Seafood Watch app.  From a management standpoint, countries are now trying to use "catch shares" to help fishermen better manage the resource.  It's a single-species, economics-driven management system that holds some promise, by allowing fishermen to determine when and how they fish, but it is not without controversy.  While the environmental community would rather see an ecosystem-level management scheme for fisheries, the current push is for catch shares.  Here's how it works and why fishermen and environmental managers are concerned:

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